Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Promises Kept

October 31 For many people the month and the day mean one thing only; a celebration of a pagan holiday where hyperactive children are given insane amounts of free sugar and adults find yet another reason to practice debauchery that society views as normal on that day. But, when you place the year 1517 behind the month and the date, it should bring a whole new meaning to the combination of the month and the day.

Before one can understand the full importance of that date, a little historical background should be provided. At this time in history, Europeans had only one choice for church attendance, the local church in their village with a priest, a monk, or a bishop which practiced under the guidance and polity of the universal Church of Rome. During this time, the Church placed a massive emphasis upon the sins of the people and their impending judgement in purgatory or hell. One of the Church authorized means of relieving ones self from the punishment of sin and of guilt was for the sinner to practice the sacrament of penance as assigned to them by their priest. After a priest would hear confession of sins from a parishioner and witness contrition for the sins committed, absolution for the sins was granted by the priest. However, the process was not over yet for the sinner still would need to provide satisfaction for the confessed sins as prescribed by the priest. Usually the satisfaction of the penitent involved fasting, giving alms, or saying a specific prayer a certain number of times. If the sins were more severe, you could be asked to satisfy them by going on a long pilgrimage or on a crusade.

Over time, the Church’s system of penance adopted a new development. They began to allow people to pay penance for the satisfaction of their sins. This practice was a win-win situation for the Church and the penitent; money for the Church and satisfaction for the sinner without the inconvenience of time spent on prayers and pilgrimages. When the Church would receive money for sins committed they would issue to the sinner an official document of the Church that would acknowledge the payment of monies and give the sinner release from any further appointed practice of satisfaction. The official document or papal ticket would become known as an indulgence. The practice of buying and selling indulgences quickly took hold. One of the other practices involved with indulgences was that they could also be purchased for friends and relatives who had already died, thus relieving the amount of time they would have to spend in purgatory.

With that background set, we can now look at the importance of October 31, 1517. In the country of Germany at that time, in the vicinity of Wittenburg, there was an indulgence seller named Johann Tetzel. He was a high pressure salesman who had catchy jingle for his indulgences that went something like this, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” As Tetzel’s indulgence selling neared the very gates of Wittenburg, he unknowingly was about to receive the ire of a young monk who lived in Wittenburg. A young monk by the name of Martin Luther.

For a few years now, Luther had been practicing a slightly different religion then what the standard European church would practice. He had come under the grip of the Holy Word of God, specifically Romans 1:17 “The righteous will live by faith” and had been guided by the Spirit to see that his life’s practice of works righteousness could never compare to the sufficiency of Christ alone. In later years Luther would say this of his conversion, “My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement 'the just shall live by faith.' Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning...This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.”

This recently converted monk began to see the abuses of the universal Church. He understood they impact of souls being eternally damned to Hell through the practices of buying and selling indulgences. As Tetzel neared the gates of Wittenburg, Luther took pen in hand and wrote ninety-five statements of abuse by the Church of Rome. On the thirty-first day of October, Martin took those ninety-five theses and nailed them to the door of Wittenburg Castle for all to read. With that single action, he sparked a flame that would soon sweep all of Europe in a firestorm. For that one nail held the convictions that would soon unite the reformers of the past with those who were yet to come, and it allowed the present reformers to stand and proclaim the light of the true Gospel, Christ alone.

So, while this is all well and good and yes, we can nod our heads and say that we are thankful for the early reformers like Luther, what can we take from this event in history and hold on to and make our own? I believe there are many and while my list is not exhaustive, I will share a few.

The story of the Reformation reminds me of the importance of prayer. Almost every time I read about the early reformers, I am reminded of a term that almost made me cringe the first time I heard it, posthumous joy. Picture it this way. Let us say that in the twelfth century AD there lived an old man who had been enlightened with the true joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There was not much he could do but pray for the Gospel to continue to be illuminated to the lost and dying around him, but pray he did. He prayed for the ministry of the Holy Spirit to come and to start a revival that would sweep through the Church and bring many to Jesus. He prayed faithfully from the day of his conversion until the day of his death and never saw that revival come. Now picture that same man in Heaven as centuries later or in eternity future he sees God’s sovereign hand answering the prayers of the faithful as the Reformation begins. Picture that man walking with Luther and John Huss in Glory and saying, “I prayed you would come and God faithfully answered my prayers.” Imagine then the posthumous joy of the saints of God as they glorify the One who is Faithful and True. We are never promised an answer to our prayers in our lifetime, but we are commanded to pray. James 5:16b

The second thing I am reminded of is the power of Scripture. Luther was one of the most devoted followers of man-made religious practices, but it was God’s Word that moved within him and planted the seed that sovereignly grew into Salvation. Hebrews 4:12

I also think of the faithfulness of God and how He fulfills His promises to us. Christ promised that His church would stand and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. At times in the darkness of the middle ages and at various times in history, it appears as if thought the Church has disappeared or almost destroyed. But God kept His promise and He will continue to do so. Hebrews 10:23

Finally, I am reminded of how thankful I truly am for Jesus Christ. When I look at all of the man-made devices of “salvation,” I am in awe of the sufficiency of Christ alone. If I was left to find my own means of salvation I would never make it. There is nothing I could do that would be enough to make up for what I have done. There is nothing I can add that helps save me a little bit more. It only upon Christ that my hope rests and I am so thankful that it is the only way. Hebrews 4:14-16
If you are interested in reading about other aspects of the Reformation click here

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Girls Day Out

Our daughter Hannah had faithfully worked for 3 years in the AWANA Sparks program to finish all three books of memorization work. One of the rewards for doing that was the end of the year "Sparks Day" at Camp AWANA. Unfortunately, we had a problem with the day she was suppose to go due to the fact that she needed surgery on her feet. Both of her pinky toes were hammertoes that required surgery to straighten. That meant limited walking for a few weeks and sandals only for the whole summer while her toes healed. Trying to be the good parents, we promised her her own "Sparky" hike when she was healed up. So this last Sunday was the day. Hannah and I took three of her friends out for pizza after church and spent the afternoon hiking and geocaching.

Here are the girls after lunch, ready for their first cache!

Trying to use the GPS.

Why geocache when there is a park here?

Our last cache. This one was the first part of a multi-cache. In the green tube the girls are holding, there are coordinates to the next hidden cache, after finding that one, the coordinates will lead you to the final cache.
All in all we had a great time. I returned with all four girls, slightly wet, a few scratched and bloody, everyone of them very tired, but I returned with all four.

PS. For those who don't know, Hannah is the one in the white shirt with the heart on it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Following the Greeks

In addendum to my prior post, I feel that I need to explain a little more about dactylic hexameter. First of all, so I'm not seen as completely stupid, I understand completely the example that I gave before of strawberry, strawberry, strawberry, strawberry, strawberry, jam pot. What I should have said however, is that I didn't get the rest of the examples that they provided. So, for the three people that are reading, I decided that it is time for you to play along at home. The following examples are in dactylic meter, not hexameter. So you are looking three syllable "feet" with the accent on the first syllable. Three of the following sentences are in dactylic meter. Feel free to place your guesses in the comment section to show off the depths of your wisdom and to humiliate me. Enjoy!

1. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan.

2. Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary.

3. This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks.

4. Look on my works, ye mighty and despair.

5. The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day.

6. The nox was lit by lux of luna and twas a nox most opportuna.

7. Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland...

8. The sea was wet as wet could be, the sands were dry as dry.

9. When voices of children are heard on the green.

10. Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Those Blasted Greeks

As most of you know, we home-school our children. Before anyone starts to jump to conclusions or anything, we are not your militant home-school family. We do it because it works for us and it's how we believe that God is leading at this time. There may come a day in the not to distant future where we look at other schooling options. We are open to that. With that stated, we also realize that there are some specific education options that we can offer our children now that they would be unable to get anywhere else.
For four years now I have taught a history class once a week to a few other home-school families. We have used the fantastic history curriculum that is published by Veritas Press. It is a curriculum that starts with the Creation, the actual beginning (what a novel idea!), and then works through Biblical and historical events chronologically. Through this curriculum the overall emphasis is God's sovereignty in the events of human history. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the class in the early years was seeing how Biblical and world history intertwined. We are now in our fourth year and just getting to U.S. history.
However, as good as the history class has been, I wanted a little more for my children to prepare them for life as they get older. So this year Alex, my oldest son, and I are tackling the Veritas Press seventh grade curriculum Omnibus. It is a Biblical and Classical curriculum that is history, theology, and literature all rolled up into one. It also includes plenty of writing and tremendous amounts of logic. There is a Primary reading list and a Secondary reading list and we are doing both of them. So far Alex is enjoying the curriculum. It is time consuming and mentally taxing, but very rewarding. So far this year, Alex has read the following books; Genesis, Exodus, Epic of Gilgamesh, Code of Hammurabi, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Chosen by God, and Till We Have Faces. He is currently reading The Magician's Nephew and has just started the Odyssey. By the end of the year, Lord willing, he will have read, analyzed, discussed, and essayed 41 different books. With the exception of the Code of Hammurabi, he has really enjoyed the curriculum. The time that he and I get to spend together discussing these books has been very enjoyable and rewarding. I personally wish I had the time to read each of these books and maybe over many years, I will.
This extremely long-winded post was necessary for me to explain my first problem with the curriculum. I know there are somethings that I understand and other things that I don't. Mostly, they fall in areas of interest, like cars. I don't understand cars. I know how to do the very basic of maintenance on them, but that is it. Guess what, I don't care that I don't understand cars because they don't interest me. Back to my problem. Alex and I began the Odyssey this week and one of the things the textbook brought out was that the Odyssey is an epic poem that is written in dactylic hexameter. That means that each line of the poem in the original Greek language was made up of six metrical "feet", or dactyls. Each dactyl foot has three syllables with the accent always on the first syllable except for the last dactyl. The English equivalent the text book gives is
"strawberry strawberry strawberry, strawberry strawberry jam pot"
The textbook then goes on to give a list of English sentences of which some are written in dactyl meter and some are not. We are suppose to determine which ones are.
Here is the rub. I don't get it. I want to understand how it works because literature interests me, but I don't get it. I understand how it is suppose to work, but I can't hear the meter. I have the answers in front of me as to which sentences are written in dactyl meter and which aren't, but I still don't understand. This of course leaves me somewhat frustrated and muttering under my breath, "Those blasted Greeks".

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

October Giveaway

October Giveaway

Here is a great opportunity to walk away with a stack of books. Once again Tim Challies is giving away stuff. All you need to do is enter your e-mail address and you are entered for the giveaway. This months giveaway is a great one. He is giving to one fortunate person 40 copies of R.C. Sproul's newest book The Truth of the Cross. Of course no one needs 40 copies of one book, the object is for the lucky winner to turn around and give them away as a potential evangelism tool. I would appreciate it if you click the banner above to enter because, well, you get a chance for some free books and quite honestly it improves my chances of winning too.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Of Sunflowers and Sparrows

For a few years now, we have planted sunflowers in a long, narrow bed along the driveway. When we first bought our house there were cedar trees planted there, but I really dislike mowing around any type of pine tree, so to the burn pile they went. I can’t really remember anything else in that place other than the cedar trees and sunflowers.
Every spring, as soon as the ground is ready, we plant our sunflowers. We are not real particular about what kinds we get, but we try for several different types. We plant them according to height so that the shortest ones are closest to the street and the tallest ones are farther away as they go up the driveway. We always try to get some of the huge sunflowers and have even gotten some to grow over twelve feet tall. Somewhere there are pictures of three little children hiding among the stalks as the heads of the flowers stretched far above.
Sunflowers of course get their name from the simple fact that they follow the sun. If you were to stand at our kitchen sink and look out the window you would see the sunflower bed. In all the years that I have been watching the sunflowers grow, I have learned a thing or two about them. One of the things I have learned is that they follow the sun even when it is cloudy or rainy. No matter where the sun is they know it. Something else I have observed is even when the plants are very small, before the flower head has formed, the top of the plant begins to follow the sun. Every spring and summer I am in awe of these wonderful plants.
Now, fall is closing quickly. Almost all of the blooms have faded and petals have dropped. The largest of the sunflowers have heads that are so large they can no longer follow the sun because the shear weight of the seeds can not be supported by the stalk. These mammoth flowers hang silently while just a few feet away their smaller cousins hold their seed heads upright as autumn breezes rustle the dying leaves.
The funny thing is . . . now the fun starts. Everyday now we can look out at various times and discover species of birds that we haven’t seen all summer coming to visit our sunflowers. Nuthatches, wrens, chickadees, cardinals, and goldfinches on their annual migratory flight stop in at our patch beside the driveway for their own little bed and breakfast. The squirrels climb the giant sunflowers and hang upside down while trying to get seeds to store for the winter. Ornery blue-jays fly in to drive the squirrels away while chipmunks stand on their hind legs and pull the plants down so they can stuff their little cheeks full in winter preparation. This morning I watched a whole flock of sparrows flit from head to head, eating here, singing over there. They would stop every once in a while and take a quick dust bath under the sunflowers stalks. And then . . . it hit me.
I am reminded every year when I watch the sunflowers as they grow and follow the sun, how they are a perfect example of how I should be. Their heads always on the sun, even when they can’t see it, show me how often I take my eyes off of the Son I should be watching. When my stormy days come, too often I try and part the clouds by myself. I lose my focus, but the sunflowers don’t. I become a me-flower instead of a Son-follower. But today something else became apparent to me. Those little sparrows haven’t been here. They weren’t here in May watching as we tilled the ground and planted the seed. They didn’t nest right next to the flower bed waiting for the day when the seed would be edible. Nowhere is there a calendar where they have today’s date circled scheduling lunch for them from our sunflower bed. And yet, there they are. All along God knew when the sunflowers would die and no longer be able to follow the sun, and all along He knew the very day and time to bring the birds to eat from the sunflowers so they wouldn’t starve.
It had come full circle for me. I need to be like the sunflowers and stay focused on my Creator. He will take care of the rest just like He took care of the sparrows this morning. It is so much easier said then done, but all creation sings His praise and I believe if we stop and listen long enough to the song it sings we will be directed to the Maker. Even in these trying days I need to let go, keep my eyes on Him, and rest in the comfort of knowing that He who keeps the sparrows will keep me and my family. Matthew 6:25-34

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

And so it has begun

I don’t mean the blog, though I certainly could be referring to it and may at some later time. No, I am referencing the fact that I am the father of a teenager. I have been for three days now and I must say, so far it has gone well. No blue hair (not that his father would have ever done that), no girls calling on the phone (again, I plead the Fifth), and there has not been any sign of overt rebellion towards his mother, father, or religion (we will not pursue this any farther). Granted, we are only 3 days in, but we haven’t noticed much of a change from him being twelve. In all seriousness, my children are one of the most precious treasures that I have and I relish watching all of them grow in the unique graces God has bestowed upon them.

My eldest reminds me of myself in so many ways it is frightening. We have pictures of he and I side by side when I was his age and most people cannot tell who is who. Even though there are physical similarities between us, I see so much more in him. He has developed a passion for music and the gift that God has given him is this area is unlimited. Quite often, when no one is looking, I tear up listening to him play the piano. His fingers play more than notes, they play songs that course with feeling and emotion. Because of his ability and love for music, he was given an acoustic guitar for his birthday. Three days later and he has already learned 4 or 5 chords.

As proud as I am about his musical abilities, his heart is what I treasure most. He is developing into a deep thinker (I will address more about this some other time) with a passion for God that I pray will only continue to grow. I am so thankful for God’s grace in his life and for the tenderness of his heart. My prayer is that he would continue to have a passion for God revealed to him and that he would know God as He is, not a God/god of his imagination.

I have always wanted to sing Rich Mullins baby dedication song “Let Mercy Lead” for a baby dedication, but that has never happened. However, I believe that it is maybe more appropriate now as my son enters into these next exciting and terrifying years. So here are the lyrics dedicated to him.

Aidan you're young
But Aidan you're growing fast
Me and your mom
And all the love we have
We can only take you so far
As far as we can
But you'll need something more to guide your heart
As you grow into a man

Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave
There'll be a drop of grace
If we can reach
Beyond the wisdom of this age
Into the foolishness of God
That foolishness will save
Those who believe
Although their foolish hearts may break
They will find peace
And I'll meet you in that place
Where mercy leads

Aidan the day
Aidan the day will come
You'll run the race
That takes us way beyond
All our trials and all our failures
And all the good we dream of
But you can't see yet where it is you're heading
But one day you'll see the face of love